This week, we interviewed the very passionate Sonam Yangchen. An artist who paints and handcrafts statement wooden earrings that intricately incorporate Bhutanese textile patterns and designs, under the Rinyang Artisan. Having loved painting since childhood, she is now sharing that love with others through her art. The first painting she ever sold at VAST was a collage art that she sold in her 9th standard. This painting was sold to an American lady for Nu.3000, approximately US$40. The art was primarily composed of mountains, chortens (Stupas), and prayers which displayed a massive impression on her future. She then continued to follow her passion for art, which led her to become a founder of Rinyang Artisan.
What inspired you to come up with Rinyang Artisan?
“I’m no stranger to art. Growing up in a family of artists, I’ve always loved to paint. And my passion for art has always been a part of my life. I am grateful to my father for having sparked my unwavering interest in art since he was a painter, and it’s the reason why the people in my family love art. Painting has always been my hobby, but it wasn’t until I met my neighbour, a very talented entrepreneur herself, Kinley Peday, the founder of Yiga Chocolate who gave me the idea of creating my art on earrings. I then thought of incorporating traditional Bhutanese textile paintings on wooden earrings.
I am very thankful to her for helping me turn my passion into a living. Now I run a home-based business of intricate accessories which is very special to my heart and I feel very connected to the name Rinyang, which is the combination of my daughter’s first name Rinchen and my last name Yangchen.”
What makes your company different from other businesses?
“My business is not just about creating beautiful art, but also showing the world what Bhutanese art looks like. Through these earrings, I aspire to illustrate Bhutan’s distinctiveness. That’s what makes it different.
I create long-lasting and water-resistant earrings with a pop of colour. They are made by hand, recreating traditional Bhutanese textile patterns painted on light wood. I think that the combination of light wood and handcrafted Bhutanese textile patterns makes my earrings unique.”
How does Rinyang promote traditional Bhutanese designs?
“I design earrings that incorporate Bhutanese traditional designs. The patterns are based on the woven fabrics of Bhutan, and through this, I feel like, in my small way, I can promote Bhutanese culture and how much it means to me being a Bhutanese Artisan. The designs are especially inspired by Bhutanese textiles, our incredible cultural heritage. My art helps to preserve some of that culture, which is important to me. Additionally, most of my clients are tourists who are interested in learning more about Bhutanese culture through my designs, and they also love how authentic they are.”
What are the challenges you face as a business owner while turning a passion into a living?
” The stigma surrounding careers in creative arts and turning your mere hobby into a living always felt daunting. But somehow I made myself and others believe that it can be done through passion and drive for what you love. For me, the biggest challenge was overcoming this stigma. Another challenge I face is the lack of materials in Bhutan, which makes it costly for me to order them from other countries, it has now become a hassle due to the recent pandemic. Additionally, I find it quite difficult to manage my time because I run my business from home while caring for my daughter. “
What is your favorite part of being an entrepreneur?
“The life of an entrepreneur allows me to meet people from other countries. It is a great experience for me actually as I get to learn about the different cultures of other countries through these people. I also get to hear their opinions and feedback on my designs and then I can improve on them from there.
Having the freedom to work at my own pace and time would be another favourite thing for me. I don’t have any boss hovering over me and telling me what to do or how to do it, so that gives me the freedom to experiment with my designs and the flexibility to customize my designs into not just earrings but other things too. Since I enjoy painting, it is easy for me to switch to just doing normal canvas paintings whenever I want.”
Bhutanese youth prefer Western fashion and designs over Bhutanese ones. How does your business plan to change that?
“The way I see it, the culture will persist if we can all go about our lives and still preserve the essence of our Bhutanese heritage. That’s why I try to incorporate a modern touch into my earrings. I want people to be able to wear earrings that bring them joy and make them happy but also serve as a reminder of what makes our culture so beautiful. My frequent customers are people who share a genuine love for Bhutanese art, so serving them with authentic Bhutanese products today in this era promotes Bhutanese designs among the young generation.”
What is the process of making your handcrafted wooden earrings and how do you come up with the design?
“The process for the handcrafted wooden earrings I sell is pretty simple, but it requires a lot of care to make sure each pair comes out just right! Most of my earring designs are customised to the requests of my clients where I derive inspiration from traditional textiles, especially Kira or Gho patterns. I believe in recycling things so I look into a few packaging ideas on Pinterest and incorporate a Bhutanese touch into it. The process involves first making the borderline on both sides of the wood chip and then painting the designs, which takes a long time, and finally letting it dry. I then embellish the pieces with hooks and other elements, such as pearls and stones, according to my client’s preferences. Following that, I create my own packaging which is usually inspired by unused or unwanted cloth pieces or traditional Bhutanese paper.”
What has been your biggest accomplishment in your business?
“I think my biggest accomplishment so far has been being able to bring the culture of Bhutan out through my jewellery. I’m so tickled and proud to be a Bhutanese Artisan who has created a line of earrings that reflect the unique character of Bhutan, and I am continually astounded by how much people love the idea.
I believe that connecting with others is one of the most important things you can do in life. I have met some amazing people because of my art practice, including some incredible clients. I’m also very proud of being selected by His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, as one of the artists to paint the entrance wall at Bhutan’s International Airport. “
What is your vision or future plan for Rinyang Artisan?
“As of now, Rinyang has been an online business. I have based this business on my love for hand-made products and have been selling them online, but I envision a studio where my clients can connect with me and my creativity. By doing so, it will build trust with my potential clients and they will feel more confident when purchasing my products.”
What is that one piece of advice that you would like to give to aspiring female business entrepreneurs?
Art for me is freedom. It’s the freedom of creating a world that I want to live in, a place to escape, a safe space where you can be yourself. For me, it’s a way to express myself and my feelings. My work is an extension of my identity, and I enjoy sharing it with others. When I’m feeling stressed out or overwhelmed by life in general, art helps me to focus on something positive and constructive.
I encourage everyone to follow their passions and find ways to bring that sense of peace and joy into their lives. Whether it’s through creating art or otherwise. There will be a lot of challenges on your way, but don’t give up on your dreams, be persistent about it and keep trying to reach them. Enjoying what you do and living through the process of making your dream come true is what matters the most.
Sonam lives by a very simple concept. The business doesn’t have to grow large for her, what matters is that the love of art that she has gets reflected in her work and makes her clients feel good. For now, Yangchen is content with the pace of her business. She is spending time with her daughter. As a mom, it gives her immense satisfaction to see that her daughter chooses art over other distractions like TV or mobile games. She hopes that later on when she grows up, she will also choose art over everything else and keep the legacy going.